UK Politics

Commentators react to Thatcher's legacy

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Media captionWatch the BBC's Martine Croxall examine how the papers covered Lady Thatcher's death

How have commentators in the UK and around the world reacted to the death of Baroness Thatcher?

News coverage of the former prime minister's death in the UK has focused on the fact that she was a major political figure but also that she sharply divided opinion.

That divide is as strong as ever, judging by the reaction of newspaper commentators.

The Sun's editorial is glowing, claiming she was the greatest prime minister in peacetime history. Of her nine greatest achievements, taming the unions is seen as the best.

"In the teeth of bitter hostility, she saved Britain from ruin at the hands of union wreckers and transformed the economy," it says.

But for the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, fighting the unions has had its modern day victims.

"Her onslaught on the trade unions left those movements pale imitations of their former selves, too weak to resist the drive to the 'flexible labour market' which has seen Britain become the home of what one senior Labour figure calls 'crappy jobs', with low pay and no protection", he says.

She is blamed for another current problem - the housing crisis - by Owen Jones in the Independent.

"Five million people now languish on social housing waiting lists, while billions of pounds of housing benefit line the pockets of private landlords charging rip-off rents. The scarcity of housing turns communities against each other, as immigrants or anyone deemed less deserving are scapegoated."

For him the guilt lies with the Thatcherite policy of right-to-buy and "failure to replace the stock that was sold off".

'Do not slip back'

Former chancellor of the exchequer Lord Lamont stands up for Baroness Thatcher in the Telegraph for rescuing the UK's economy.

"Having been the laggard of Europe, with a stagnant and uncompetitive economy, Britain was galvanised. It became respected and admired for its entrepreneurship. After Mrs Thatcher, the country had a growing economy, low public spending and competitive rates of taxation."

He goes on to warn that the present government must make sure "we do not slip back into the state from which she rescued us".

Similarly, Max Hastings says in the Daily Mail that future success of the economy will be thanks to her and if the economy continues to stagnate it's because she is being ignored.

Focusing on the current banking crisis, Ken Clarke and Ken Livingstone disagree on whether Baroness Thatcher could be blamed.

On Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Livingstone, one of her toughest opponents at the time, says she won the ideological debate and that "Blair and Brown, on economic policy both believed she got it right."

But Ken Clarke, who was in her cabinet, points out she didn't deregulate banks. "She would not have tolerated irresponsible, over-rich business men," he says.

Chancellor George Osborne says in the Times that the lesson still to be learnt from Baroness Thatcher at this time of economic gloom is optimism.

"She had optimism in the ingenuity and enterprise of the British people, when most had written them off," he says.

Aside from domestic divisions, the Washington Post's editorial says that outside Britain she will be remembered primarily as a world figure.

"She strengthened Britain's ties with the United States, bolstered its military, supported placement of intermediate-range missiles in Europe (an extremely controversial move at the time) and spoke out with undiplomatic boldness when she took offense at some countries' actions. She saw a great divide between freedom and the various forms of tyranny in the world, and she made it clear, always, which side she was on."

The Wall Street Journal hails her as the "woman who saved Britain".

"She achieved greatness because she articulated a set of vital ideas about economic freedom, national self-respect and personal virtue, sold them to a sceptical public and then demonstrated their efficacy", it says.

'Subvert every feminine fibre'

There is some debate about what Baroness Thatcher did for women. Alice Thomson suggests in the Times that she is a feminist icon who measured up to Gorbachev, Mitterand and Reagan.

However, according to Allison Phillips in the Mirror "Thatcher taught us then that your best chance of success as a woman was to essentially subvert every feminine fibre in your being." For her, this meant Baroness Thatcher did little to break the glass ceiling as "we didn't want to be men".

Former Labour MP Alan Milburn predicts in Radio 4's the World at One that Baroness Thatcher's death may have another knock-on effect - for the electorate to start demanding stronger leaders.

"Politics has become greyer, the lines have become more blurred. That isn't too say that people aren't looking for what they've always looked for in politics which is a lead - people to stand up for the things that they believe in, argue for them and if they get the opportunity to be in power, prosecute them. I think that's what Mrs Thatcher is a reminder of all that."

Finally, in the Telegraph, former leader of the SDP David Owen, focuses on her personality.

"Her strengths, in part, proved to be weaknesses: huge insensitivity to non-achievers, a narrowness of vision, and certainty that she was right."